Why Kill Mrs Kindred?

The moment Mrs. Kindred entered the house she kicked off her shoes. Not that they were uncomfortable - on the contrary - she always wore broad low-heeled shoes of a kind becoming more difficult to find with every season.

She found she relaxed best when her feet were free. She usually padded around her well-carpeted home in stockinged feet, and today was no exception.

She spared a fleeting half guilty thought, to the still tissue wrapped, pom-pommed, slippers on the top wardrobe shelf. Barbara her elder step-daughter had sent them last Mother's Day. She should really pop them on occasionally.

The day was humid. She left the front door open as she carried her basket through to the kitchen table. She filled her kettle and put it to boil, automatically switching on a transistor which stood above the bench. A pop singer in mid-word filled the kitchen with sound. She made a mug of instant coffee when the water boiled, and sat with a sigh at one end of the table - her back to the hope of a breeze from the front door.

The time had come when she must confess her deceit to Bill, and she must decide how and when. Perhaps, in the circumstances, he would not be too upset. She knew he would be shocked that she had managed to keep something from him for so long. She rose to turn the radio a little higher - sometimes she feared she might be growing a little deaf. She sat again to consider her problem. Bill would try, as he always did, to understand - but she knew he would be hurt.

Her last thought was a loving one, warmly affectionate, of Bill.

The radio sang on; there were a few other sounds, but Mrs. Kindred did not hear.

It was Martin, her youngest stepchild, who found her. He came, calling cheerfully through the open front door - a slight dark young man with a humorous intelligent face. He stumbled first over the novelty doorstop - a gaily painted old flat iron which lay in an unaccustomed place in the middle of the hall. There was no humour in his eyes as he saw the pathetic dumpy little figure slumped at the table, spectacles askew, her face in a pool of spilt coffee and blood.

WHY KILL MRS KINDRED?, asked newspaper headlines of the world at large - neighbours and friends of each other - and her family, in stunned bewilderment - of their God.

Above all, the police asked it, of friends neighbours and family alike.

To all enquiries, Mrs. Kindred seemed to emerge as the least complicated person in her suburban world. As young Mrs. Ward from next door told one policeman,

"She was really kind, always some little thing for the kids, and she'd mind Garry if I wanted to nick out for a message."

Mrs. Ward was exceptionally pretty - but her eyes were tired. A round eyed girl of about four stood inquisitively beside her in the doorway - a plump little boy wobbled wetly around a play pen in the background - and her slightly grubby slacks, and Tshirt were unmistakably bulging with another child.

"Mrs. Kindred never worried if Lurleen broke anything," she went on, "often gave us a bit of a hand since Ron got out of work. "Don't you go short" she said."

A burly, very red-headed young man in singlet and shorts appeared in the hall behind her.

"What's up?" he asked.

"It's about Mrs. Kindred, Ron," explained the girl. "She was good to us, wasn't she?"

"She was alright," he agreed "Not a bad old sort at all. I better go over and see Bill, don't you reckon?"

"P'r'aps a bit later on mate," the policeman advised as he went away. He was prepared to believe it as the young wife called after him,

"I'll really miss Mrs. Kindred."

Mr. Barfoot from across the way was shocked.

"I c-c-can't b-b-believe it," he said over and over. "Everyone l-l-liked her - I used to see her in the g-garden. Have a w-w-word or t-two. F-flowers for mother. I c-can't believe it." Mr. Barfoot, a small balding widower lived with his aged mother in an aged house."I can't believe she's dead."

His mother, with the calm of the very old, was sorry to hear the news. She assured the policeman that,

"We all have to go some time - but she was a good woman - made lovely bread - used to bring me some over. She knew I appreciated it." Her regret seemed divided equally between the woman and the bread.

Mr. Barfoot did not ask advice on the matter, but hurried over the road to offer condolences and that mysterious, "anything I can do?" which is a feature of every bereavement.

A long-haired teenager with a straggly straw coloured beard, who lived a few doors down, said that Mrs. Kindred was a "nice old lady". Pressed for more -

"She was sensible," he said. "She talked about what was in her head, not what she thought might be in mine."

No-one remembered seeing a stranger coming or going near the Kindred house.

To place the husband in the role of wife-murderer seemed, in this case, miscasting. Close investigation failed to unearth another woman in Bill Kindred's life. His wife had been only moderately insured, and his business and circumstances were solidly comfortable. Of the step-children, one daughter was married, one son studying in London, one daughter fully employed and sharing a flat near the City. The only child still at home was Martin - a brilliant and apparently well-adjusted student.

Neighbours and friends were unanimous in their opinion that the Kindreds were an unusually united and contented couple, sharing mutual interests and a pleasant circle of friends. Relations with their children, by all accounts, were also more harmonious than most.

Enquiries into Bess Kindred's past proved equally fruitless. It could almost have been said that she had no past. Her life appeared to have been an open and easily read book. After thirty-five years as a devoted and only daughter in a quiet suburban home, she had met and married Bill Kindred, forty years old and a widower with four children - Martin the youngest then only a toddler. She was not a beautiful woman, she had a round pleasant face, a plump figure, a pretty laugh and a gentle manner. No disappointed lovers or extra-marital encounters could be traced during exhaustive enquiries.

The only other man in her life had been a short engagement in her teens, the boy later killed in a motor-cycle accident. She had no inheritance - both her parents were living - elderly but active.

Neither she nor her husband had any known enemies. Her mother, an alert late seventies, assured the police that her daughter had been truly content with her step- children.

"She hoped for children of her own in the beginning," she told the detective. "But when she found it wasn't to be she felt she was lucky to have a ready-made family, and Martin was like her own. She was his Mum really, all his life."

Nothing had been stolen from the house. Groceries and other purchases had not been unpacked from the basket which stood on the table. Tucked in its side-pocket, the house-keeping purse still held the amount which, at a rough guess, the family considered to be a reasonable sum for the day of the week.

Of Mrs. Kindred's few pieces of jewellery, nothing was missing. Her engagement ring, of moderate value, was still on her hand.

Few had theories to offer - an unusual feature for such a case. Why indeed, kill Mrs. Kindred?

It was a week or so after the inquest and funeral - speculation and furore abating. The family must pick up the threads. Martin and his sister Jenny came quietly into the house. Their father sat in the living room, the unopened morning paper, courtesy of Mr. Barfoot, across his knees. He had been a quiet man, cheerful, kind, his brown hair lightly touched with grey, his ruddy face unlined. In this short time his children had watched age settle heavily upon him. The man in the chair, before he saw them in the doorway, was diminished, shrunken, pain and bewilderment sitting badly on a face not meant for tragedy.

He tried to greet them with pleasure - the effort obvious to them both.

"Jenny," he said, "it's good to see you."

"Hello Dad." Jenny crossed the room to kiss the top of her father's head. She tried to speak matter-of-factly. "Martin and I thought...we thought, perhaps...it was time to sort out Mum's clothes and things." She paused awkwardly.

Bill Kindred looked helplessly from one anxious face to the other.

"Of course - yes - it's - I should have - I couldn't quite - " his voice failed and he cleared his throat to begin again.

Martin was suddenly filled with unaccustomed rage. How dared some senseless hand snatch light and contentment from his gentle father - snuff out the kind life that had warmed this house?

"Do whatever you think best," his father was continuing, "whatever Bess would have wanted. Perhaps Mrs. Ward could do with - they've been very kind - "

Jenny and Martin went soberly to work. Mrs. Kindred's garments were serviceable - good of their kind - mostly pastel colour. They made piles of items - for the charity shop - things that Mrs. Ward might conceivably make over - a few things that Jenny and Barbara would keep.

Martin heard a sharp sound from Jenny - half sob, half laugh - as she held up a pair of red slippers - unused, and two brand new flowered aprons.

"Typical Barb.," she said. "She knows perfectly well Mum hates - hated - slippers and aprons - still, every Birthday - " She shook her head wonderingly as she folded the things back into the tissue paper.

"Mm - Barb's image of a mother - aprons and slippers." Martin agreed absently. He was methodically going through handbags, running his fingers into side pockets and unzipping centre purses. He slid two fingers perfunctorily into the third and shabbiest one, hesitated and then withdrew them holding, pincer-fashion, a small thin card. It was printed on one side only, with letters and figures.

"Jen - look!" His voice held genuine surprise. "It can't be."

Jenny too looked incredulous.

"It couldn't belong to Mum," she said. "She wouldn't - she knew how Dad felt."

They were realistic young people.

"Perhaps Dad never knew." They stood together, looking down at the card.

"It's dated months ago," Martin observed. "I don't see how it could have any bearing on anything, but it is queer."

"Tear it up! Put it in the bin!" Jenny's voice was sharp. "And don't let Dad see it for God's sake."

Martin put the scrap in his pocket - but he spoke without certainty.

"I won't show Dad, but I got the queerest feeling when I found it, as though it meant something - as though Mum wanted me to find it."

"Rubbish!" Jenny went back to her sorting and packing. "She probably picked it up somewhere. She wouldn't even know what it was. Forget it."

Martin slowly put the bag on the charity pile.

"You may be right," he said. "Just the same, I want to know more about it..."

Martin tackled the Wards first. Mrs. Ward looked apologetic.

"Well - I knew she did a bit - now and then - I knew through Ron really. But we knew how Bill felt - so we never said anything. It was over at Chatswood mostly, where Ron used to work."

Martin's shock was visible.

"Chatswood? That's miles from home."

"Yes, well," Joan Ward agreed diffidently, "She used to take a bus over. You know, in case anyone knew, because of your father. She didn't like to go to the local." She tried to explain further. "I think she got a bit lonely after the girls left home. It was something to do - you know - a bit of an interest."

Reg Barfoot, who had been a daily visitor to Bill Kindred since the tragedy, professed no knowledge of Mrs. Kindred's activities.

"She wouldn't of!" He said vehemently. "Not knowing how strict against it your father is."

The boy down the road said he had never seen her at the local. Martin went home only to get his car, and drove directly to Chatswood. He carried a recent, clear, colour likeness of Bess.

He felt no surprise when the face of the woman behind the grille lit with instant recognition.

"Yes," she said. "I know her well. Not her name of course. We don't often hear names. She was a Wednesday regular. Hasn't been in for a while, now I come to think of it. Not since she had the big win."

Martin's stomach turned over, and his legs were weak. He leaned against the grille of the T.A.B.

"Her big win?" His voice was husky. "Tell me about it?"

"She -" Quite suddenly the woman's face changed. "Oh no!" she said, "Oh No!" She snatched up the photograph again. "Oh God - it's that - that Mrs. Kindred in the papers. I never connected..." Her face drained of all colour. She too leaned against the grille for support.

She readily told Martin all she knew.

"She never won much - a bit here and there. Never lost much either. She used to come in after the crowds had gone and have a few doubles. A quinella sometimes, or a Trifecta. Win and Place sometimes. Gave her something to listen to in the afternoons. We often had a bit of a chat when it was quiet. She told me her hubby had an absolute horror of gambling. But she said she wanted to tell him one day. Then she got the Trifecta that Wednesday. Only had the one, too, and it was a beauty. Paid nearly four thousand dollars. So of course she came over Thursday too, to collect..."

".. She wanted it in cash. Made a bit of a joke about the bag she always carried. Funny old floppy thing she called her betting bag - kept it separate from the house-keeping. she said. 'I'll have to tell my husband now,' I remember her saying."

"There was nobody much in here at the time, but a chap came in just as she was putting the money away - I did notice then - they both got a bit of a shock. But I never thought anything of it at the time. A few more people came in and I didn't hear much what they said - except I realised they knew each other. I do know he offered her a lift home."

Martin's heart misgave him 'Not Joan's Ron' he prayed silently.

"Do you remember whether he had red hair?" he asked.

"Hardly any hair at all," she answered, "and not red. But I do remember he stuttered. Couldn't help but notice.

When the police came for Mr. Barfoot, he seemed almost relieved and eager to hand over the pathetic bulging purse.

"It's all there," he assured them over and over. "I n-never m-meant to k-k-kill her. It was the m-money. All that money. she didn't n-need it. She made me promise n-not to tell Bill. I never had any l-luck, and it wasn't fair, Imagine - all that m-money for a d-dollar. But I never meant her to d-die." He said it again and again. "Why ever would I w-want to k-kill Mrs. K-Kindred?"

Norah Boehme